by Adam Leung
On May 11, I spent the day at the Stratford Festival and I saw the plays Fiddler on the Roof and Romeo and Juliet. The day was quite a long one and I was extremely tired at the end of it, but it was definitely worth it since the plays were great!
Music has many uses in a play. In Fiddler on the Roof it is used to explain the plot and the characters’ feelings and opinions. For example, Tevye explains in the opening scene with song “Tradition” why he believes tradition to be so important in their lives. He then sings part of this song in the second act to explain why his daughters should not marry men of their own free will but instead should consult the town’s matchmaker.
The song “If I Were a Rich Man” is about what Tevye would do if he owned a fortune. According to Tevye, he would build a big tall house in the middle of the town with plenty of rooms. There would be three staircases in his house, each one more impressive than the last. He also wants to keep several fowl in his yard, to prove that he is extremely rich. While I was listening to “If I Were a Rich Man,” I realized that it is very much like the song “If I Had a Million Dollars” by Barenaked Ladies – right down to the title. Both songs mention what sort of house they would have, what sort of pets they would own, what they would get for their wives and what they would do instead of working all day. So maybe, just maybe, Barenaked Ladies just might owe some credit to Fiddler on the Roof!
Watch Scott Wentworth – Tevye – perform “If I Were a Rich Man”!
The production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford this year is presented in a style that is similar to how it would have been presented at the Globe Theatre in London, in the 1590s, in mid-afternoon in winter. The lights are left on and ever so slightly dimmed, no spotlights are used to follow the actors and no sound system is used to amplify the actors’ voices. Music is used only as background music or as part of a scene since the Globe Theatre did not have an orchestra pit, and the musicians play old-fashioned instruments from Shakespeare’s time.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye is torn between following the standard marriage tradition and letting his daughters marry men they choose and love. Personally, I believe that the daughters are right in the sense that if they let their parents and the matchmaker choose, then the community is almost a dictatorship since no one has a free choice in marriage. I think the best way would be for Tevye to recommend his daughters to avoid certain husbands instead of making the marriage mandatory.
In Romeo and Juliet, there is a very obvious tradition that both the Montague and the Capulet families follow: you MUST hate the other family. If you don’t follow this tradition, you are shunned by your family for the rest of your life. In Fiddler on the Roof, tradition is changed because the outside world is moving on with time. However, in Romeo and Juliet, tradition is changed because of tradition itself. Romeo and Juliet are fed up with tradition (think Motel and Tzeitel from Fiddler on the Roof) but this tradition results in their deaths. It is not until after their deaths that the two families end the mini-war that they have been waging and call a truce.
In most plays, the props and sets are a vital part of the story, since they help tell where the scene takes place and what the characters are doing. Fiddler on the Roof uses lots of props like the milk cart, suitcases, dishes, cleaning supplies, to show what the characters are doing and where they are. Fiddler on the Roof also uses sets that are made up of objects that are only found in certain obvious places, like a bed in the bedroom or a stove and table in the kitchen.
Romeo and Juliet uses lots of props but is very different to Fiddler on the Roof since the play doesn’t use any major set changes (which is the way plays in the Elizabethan time were presented). Instead, the audience has to watch attentively so that they can see the subtle changes in props and character movement, such as when Paris is searching with the lantern or when Juliet is on the balcony and Romeo is right under her nose.
In Romeo and Juliet, one of the most confusing characters is Friar Laurence, since you don’t learn much about him except that he is a monk who knows everything there is to know about plants and their properties, both poisonous and helpful. I believe that Friar Laurence is a “good guy” since he helps Romeo and Juliet by marrying them in hopes of ceasing the quarrel that has been going on between their families. Plus, he never tells anybody about their marriage since if he was to mention it, it would cause disaster and make the fight between the Capulet and the Montague families even worse.
Fiddler on the Roof and Romeo and Juliet are about two completely different stories which take place in very different times, but they both have similar themes: love, change, tradition and tragedy. If I had to choose a favourite play, I would say neither, since they’re both amazing plays. I hope you get to see them as well!